Berlin: The Long-Awaited Third Part

Yes, I know, it’s been a long time coming. Apologies for the delay. Also, despite this walking tour lasting almost four hours, I took precisely two photos, both of which are included here.

FRIDAY

Logo of Original Berlin Walks

I’m terrible at planning my holidays (and writing about them, it seems), and the trip to Berlin was no exception. One thing I did manage to organise, however, was booking myself onto a walking tour of Berlin. I never used to be a fan of these types of tours but on recent jaunts abroad I’ve found them to be an excellent way of seeing a lot of city in a short time. I found the BerlinWalks Queer Berlin tour, which promised a whistle-stop tour of the city’s LGBT history.

I turned up at the meeting point outside Hackescher Markt station in a slightly discombobulated state. I had walked from my hotel to the U-Bahn station before realising that I had forgotten to put on any sun cream, so I had to dash back to slap some on. I didn’t regret this decision – Berlin was in the grip of a heatwave, and even by 10.30am the sun was very hot. However it did mean I arrived only just in time, and in a sweaty, flustered state.

There were several tours setting off at the same time, and while most people were here for the generic city tour or a cheerful trip out to Sachsenhausen, I was the only person here for the queer tour. My guide was a cheerful American (whose name, unfortunately, I have forgotten). He said that if I needed the toilet, I could use the facilities in an adjacent restaurant. Unfortunately his directions were not too clear, so I wandered into the kitchen by mistake and got chased out by an angry chef.

When I returned to the meeting point, two other people had turned up to join our tour. I’m not actually sure which is worse – a tiny tour group, or just one person. If it were just me and the tour guide, it might have been a bit easier. But a small group requires smalltalk. The other two were a couple, and I felt a little bit like I was interrupting a date. I felt a bit awkward, but I did my best and didn’t embarrass myself too much.

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Bare-lin, Bear-lin

THURSDAY

Sightseeing time! Time to look at some of the key locations in central Berlin. Places such as Potsdamer Platz – for years a No Man’s Land bisected by the Berlin Wall, now a thriving centre of crass commercialism with skyscrapers all around. What would Walter Ulbricht have thought?

Potsdamer Platz in Berlin on a sunny day, with the DB tower in the foreground

A short walk away, the imposing Brandenburg Gate still stands as a symbol of Berlin, as well as a magnet for tourists.

Photo of the Brandenburg Gate

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Berlin, I Love You

I first visited Berlin in 2012. To say I fell in love with the place instantly would be an exaggeration – it took an hour, maybe two. I’ve been back several times, most recently in September 2016. It has to be my favourite place in the world to visit.

My last visit was nearly 18 months ago. Far too long to wait – I was itching to go back. Luckily Brexit hasn’t yet grounded every flight between the UK and Europe, so I was still able to hop on an easyJet plane (no long-distance trains this time, alas).

Photos of planes on the tarmac seen from inside Liverpool Airport

Fully embracing the gay experience this time, I checked into the wonderful ArtHotel Connection, a small boutique hotel located on Fuggerstraße in the heart of Berlin’s gay district. I was surrounded by gay bars, gay cafés, gay shops and gay people.

I think it’s fair to say that the hotel caters to a certain specific demographic. The paintings on the walls clued me in to this, and any lingering doubt was removed the next morning when I arrived for breakfast and found a man in full leather gear eating at a table in the opposite corner.

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Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin

Photo of Berlin Skyline, showing TV Tower, Reichstag and other buildings

This is another catch-up post from last year.

My third trip to Berlin, and I had three days to squeeze in as much as possible. What did I do? Read on…

IT’S THAT TOWER AGAIN – The Berliner Fernsehturm looms large over the city, a glorious relic of the 60s, erected by the old Communist regime to show off to its neighbours on the other side of the Berlin Wall.

Photo of the TV Tower in Berlin, looking upward from the base

I had visited before, in 2012, but that time I had only visited the viewing deck. This time, I ventured up to dine at the Sphere Restaurant (advance booking recommended).

I felt a certain amount of smugness as my friend Boris arrived late following flight delays (my train was right on time) but was slightly worried that we would lose our dinner reservation. No worries, as it turns out having a native German speaker with you helps smooth things over, and we were shown to our table 20 minutes late.

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ICE ICE Baby

Photo of Hohenzollern railway bridge, Cologne, Germany

It’s another travel catch-up, from September 2016!

Back in 2014, I used the (now sadly withdrawn) DB night train from Berlin to Paris, an experience so exquisite that I managed to get a blog post and a YouTube video out of it.

Two years on, September 2016, and I felt Berlin calling to me again. It was time to repeat the experience in the other direction. The sleeper is no more, but there are still plenty of high speed trains zooming across the Continent. It was time to sample some of that action.

European train travel offers a myriad of high speed train options, each with their own fare structure. Sorting out your ICEs from your Thalyses can be a tricky business. Fortunately I was armed with knowledge from the Man in Seat 61, a one-man treasure trove of information about such things. His website should be the first stop for anyone planning a similar voyage.

Reiseplan (German timetable leaflet)

For travel to Germany, however, booking is quite simple. Just go to DB’s website, Bahn.com, and enter your journey details. The 10.58 Eurostar gives a convenient connection at Brussels, and is also a good departure time for people like me, who need to travel from the provinces.

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